We were eagerly awaiting Geronimo 2016 after attending the launch last year in Manchester (you can read about it here). However, I'm due to run my half marathon the weekend it comes back to Manchester and with a planned child-free weekend it wasn't ideal. Therefore we decided to visit Geronimo at Harewood House and book a hotel the night before to enjoy the day without a long drive beforehand; that is how much we LOVED Geronimo last year. We ranted and raved about our experience and from that we have friends that have paid to visit when it returns to Manchester later in May.
This year, our experience was completely different. I'm not going to mention the difference in weather at this point as we were prepared for that with wellies and waterproofs. However, the experience before even reaching Geronimo put our backs up. After peeling off a main road 6 miles away we reached traffic jams. This would lead us all the way to the main gates taking an extra hour. Geronimo had at this point opened another gate allowing cars in from a different direction which I think helped the situation and we weren't charged to park the car like the website had previously mentioned. I am presuming they got rid of the parking charges to help alleviate the traffic in the surrounding roads. I really felt for the locals that were stuck in the queues.
When we were in the grounds we were greeted by the queue to get into the park. This left Daddy to say, "If we have to stand in that queue as well, we are going home!"
Thankfully as an ambassador to Geronimo we had a "press pass" which gave us VIP entry and a separate entrance. We walked in after just a few minutes.
This is it, we were in. The fun could begin. As we walked into the field we were greeted by a pink gorilla and was able to pose for a picture. The girls love the quirky festival feel of random people and animals meandering around and this I felt help pick our mood up.
Our first port of call was to find the press tent so we could get our press lanyard so people knew to mention to us if they didn't want to be in any photos we took. Trying to find a member of staff that could help us was pretty much impossible. Then we got lucky, someone pointed out Simon Goldman, the Festival Director, walking about organising various people and he was more then happy to help take us. With our lanyard on board and the timetable which we were told was 30 minutes behind due to the traffic delays we were ready to hit the festival.
As we came out we met a giant chicken... again this is what makes it feel like a festival. No queues to see these, they are just walking around the crowds interacting with anybody and everybody.
The girls big attraction was to watch the TV stars from Cbeebies; this was a highlight of our day last year as we managed to set up a picnic blanket and watch from a distance whilst the girls ran around.
This year the stage was lower and the area around it wasn't as big which meant everyone stood up close. This meant the children couldn't see which resulted on children going on top of shoulders.
J loved this as this meant she could see. Daddy's back had other ideas and I felt sorry for everyone behind us too. S was too scared to go on top of shoulders so missed out on watching the show and got bored quickly as a result.
After watching Cook and Line on stage we were able to meet them in the VIP area. They were lovely and engaged with the girls, this brought S's attention back into the day rather than complaining.
As the main stage was out of the question we headed for the Arena zone to watch the shows. This included a dog show, horse jousting and the motor bike team.
Geronimo was getting busier and busier. The wind started to pick up and it was icy cold. It was time to explore some of the tents. S was insistent we met a clanger so after heading over to the information tent to try and find out where and when this was going on she managed to get a hug!
Whilst we were at the information point the girls were able to request a balloon animal of their choice. J was over the moon at her dog whilst S asked for a shark. Have you ever seen a balloon shark?
We managed to squeeze past the barricade of pushchairs and get into the music tent where there was Bollywood dancing. The girls LOVED it, and the feel of the festival last year came out. The children dancing in front, the parents watching, smiling behind. The performers enjoying and interacting with the crowd. This is what we had been looking for.
With the festival spirit back we headed for more tents to explore. The feeling soon disappeared. The baby and bubble rave tent was filled with people having picnics on the floor and again pushchairs piled inside. We struggled to get through so gave up on that tent.
The next tent along was graffiti workshops aimed at older children which would have been great if we had our niece and nephews with us. Due to the girls' ages we were not allowed to take part so continued along to the craft tent. Daddy refused to leave the entrance as he refused to squeeze past everyone.
They needed more room inside the tent. Once people were sat at a craft table, others struggled to get past. After a walk through and no space we again left. The girls disappointed at all the wonderful crafts on show but no space to take part.
We saw the circus tent but, again, the queue wasn't moving and it stretched well past where we were willing to queue, along with the my little pony bus. The girls were just not interested in joining the queues as they just kept going and going.
Even the balloon pet line stretch across the field at least 30 families deep. After promising S a pet dinosaur we had to come up with a plan B. Hook a duck. Only a 10 minute wait and a game at the same time.
After a few hours we had had enough. We were cold. We were fed up of the queues. We were fed up of not being able to see anything. We were fed up of not being able to move. We decided as a family to leave early and head home. We left mid afternoon along with many others. The queue to get out was minimal but I would dread to think what it was like later. The slippery grass car park with the rain, mud and the sheer volume of cars? I can only imagine...
So what happened? Yes it rained. A lot. This drove many inside the tents to have their picnics which took a lot of space for others that wanted to take part in the activity. This also meant people were taking empty pushchairs inside the tents to keep them drier, again, taking up the much needed space.
We also felt it wasn't as spaced out which meant the whole place felt like a zig-zag mess of queues.
There were no maps, nor were there any clear directions (the staff seemed genuinely keen on pointing us in the right direction, however, the maps they had been provided with at the information tent were woefully inadequate). We needed to know where each tent was so we knew what queue we were joining and what we were missing out on. We never found the monkey do area this year and didn't realise we missed out on in until after leaving and seeing someone's instagram photo.
I'm not really sure what happened to be honest. My head is saying they needed to restrict it. It was far too busy; it was a sell-out event and I couldn't help but feel they had sold far too many tickets. This meant people were missing out or they had to queue over an hour. It didn't have the run-free feel where the kids could get hands on, on the contrary, they never left our sides as we shuffled through the fed up crowds. The general atmosphere amongst the guests was one of frustration and anger.
Would we return? That depends on one thing. Will they go back to how it was last year? More space, less crowds, more hands-on things for the kids like the brio tent and circus skills.
Geronimo have issued the following statement.
We are aware there were issues with the traffic management getting into Harewood House and this is being addressed ahead of tomorrow’s (2nd May) event. All large scale events experience traffic and delays, and we did open the carpark at 9am to help ease congestion but we know how frustrating this is, especially when travelling with young children. We delayed the live stage shows by 30 minutes to ensure more people had been able to get in and extended our opening times to 6.30pm. Unfortunately, several food vendors let us down and decided to not turn up for the festival, which did have an impact on queues during the busy lunch time period. The terrible weather also impacted on the smooth running of the event, the mobile screen for the live stage, for example could not be installed.
*We received a complimentary family ticket for the purpose of an honest review. All photos, opinions and words are my own.
I apologise for the phone camera photos, due to the rain the main camera didn't come out.